Billy Bragg in tune and on-form

Billy Bragg, Ipswich Corn Exchange, November 26Having last seen Billy Bragg in concert over 20 years ago, it was great to catch up with him again at the Ipswich Corn Exchange on Wednesday and to find his light undimmed.

Billy Bragg, Ipswich Corn Exchange, November 26

Having last seen Billy Bragg in concert over 20 years ago, it was great to catch up with him again at the Ipswich Corn Exchange on Wednesday and to find his light undimmed. True, he's a bit greyer these days (that goes for both of us) but Billy was still able to deliver his unique message to an enthusiastic capacity crowd with warmth and passion.

Billy is currently touring solo - though with terrific support from one of Indiana's finest, Otis Gibbs. Onstage what you see is what you get - man, guitar, amp and a cup of tea. The tea is to help the drinker imagine he is singing in tune we are told.

It's a mark of the depth of his songwriting that there were just three songs in the set from latest album Mr Love and Justice. The others were a selection box of his favourite topics - politics and love-with-all-its-problems.


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From a political perspective, much of Billy's work seems more powerful now than when it was written. No Power Without Accountability, his tirade against globalisation, has never seemed more apt. With guitar playing as sharp as ever and the tea working its spell, we were treated to a medley of Woody Guthrie songs. Another highlight came when Otis was invited back on stage to duet on a fantastic cover of Gram Parsons' Sin City.

Billy also writes a great , if unconventional, love song and his two-hour set included the up-tempo Sexuality and the incredibly poignant The Saturday Boy. The Bard from Barking certainly enjoys a good natter and between songs covered subjects as diverse as Tony Hadley, the Naseby battlefield and George Osborne, all with tongue firmly in cheek. Only when he mentioned the BNP did his mood darken significantly.

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After a quarter of a century, Billy's message is still one of hope and faith. Hope that we can bring about change in our unequal society through peaceful political means and faith in our humanity and sense of community.

After a three-song encore, which included the terrific Levi Stubbs' Tears and New England, Billy departed the stage to a standing ovation.

As it says on the tour T-shirt, which apes the old Marmite ad, “Billy Bragg, you either love him or hate him.” Well, Billy, Ipswich loves you. Come back soon.

Steve Roberts

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